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Opinion Pieces by Rob

Rob Wittman: Investing in STEM bolsters Virginia education, economy

Driven by decades of technological advancements that have drastically altered the trajectory of education and workforce development systems, Virginia stands at the forefront of the shift toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The commonwealth is prepared to propel American innovation to new heights through a world-class education system and innovative industries. Given the boundless opportunities in STEM fields, parents should take every opportunity to expose their children to STEM and seek out educational opportunities that will best prepare their children for tomorrow’s workforce.

Virginia's success in fostering innovation is rooted in its highly ranked education system. The commonwealth’s comprehensive STEM and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs have laid the groundwork for a skilled workforce capable of addressing 21st-century challenges. With one of the nation's top K-12 systems and three of the country’s top 25 public universities, Virginia boasts a highly educated population with over 40% of Virginians holding at least a bachelor's degree. These institutions are vital to Virginia's innovation ecosystem and serve as a catalyst for Virginia’s growing STEM workforce.

To highlight the importance of STEM education, I was proud to host a seminar at Virginia Commonwealth University this December, which convened leaders from the National Science Foundation (NSF), VCU’s Center for Innovation in STEM Education and CodeRVA magnet school. We discussed ways parents and educators can best prepare their children and students through STEM education and how collaboration at the local, state and federal levels can better enable students to thrive in a STEM-centric workforce.

At the federal level, I am proudly supporting legislation that boosts investment in innovative industries that can capitalize on Virginia’s robust, skilled workforce. At the federal level, I am proudly supporting legislation like the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act and the American Innovation and R&D Competitiveness Act, both of which make considerable investment in STEM-related education, research and innovative initiatives.

One of my proudest achievements this Congress has been the growing support for my Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act. This bill will expand the use of 529 savings accounts to pay for postsecondary credentialing programs including STEM-related training. Parents often don’t know what professional or educational path their child will take when they first open a 529 account; they should be afforded the flexibility that allows their children to choose the route best for them. With 100 co-sponsors and growing, I look forward to continuing this momentum in 2024 to make CTE programs more accessible to all students.

Interest in STEM subjects often start at a young age. But, we need those interests and passions to persist through the K-12 period and into higher education and the workforce. Virginia’s schools and CTE programs offer renowned education in STEM fields; businesses are flocking to Virginia to capitalize on our educated and innovative workforce; and the federal government is investing heavily in initiatives that promote and expand STEM. To set our students up for success, we must champion STEM to prepare the next generation for the workforce of the future.

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